Revisiting "Six goals for my year in Germany"

So, when I first started this blog in anticipation of my Fulbright year, I made a blog post detailing six goals I had for the coming year. Now that the year has come and gone, let’s take a second and check in with how those goals went.

GOAL 1: Visit every German state

Outcome: 12/16 isn’t bad, right?

GermanStates map.jpg

This goal clearly requires some additional work. I managed to see four new states during the year thanks to trips to Bremen (city-state), Dresden (Sachsen), Berlin (city-state) and the Spreewald (Brandenburg). Still missing however are Sachsen-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Schleswig-Holstein (because apparently states with hyphens must be avoided at all costs), and lonely little Saarland in the west. I definitely think I can get to the first three sometime in the coming year, but Saarland is really going to require a special effort. We’ll see what I can manage this year.

GOAL 2: Attend Oktoberfest

Outcome: No Oktoberfest, but I did manage two other big beer festivals

I really wanted Oktoberfest to work out. My boyfriend and I even went so far as to select our dates and book a pension outside of Munich. I did so assuming that I would automatically have Fridays off at my school, but when I arrived I found that my school actually wanted me to be working on Fridays and instead have Mondays off! In hindsight, knowing how flexible they were for future schedule changes, I’m sure I could have begged for the day off, but since it was so early in the year and I was still getting used to things, I wasn’t comfortable asking for time off to go to a beer festival, of all things.

But, I did manage to hit up two other moderately sized festivals in Germany that I had a blast at. The first was the Frühlingsfest in Stuttgart, where I even got to hang out with an American friend of mine from Milwaukee, and the second was the Bergkirchweih in Erlangen (outside of Nürnberg). I did the Bergkirchweih for two consecutives nights plus wore a Dirndl, so I think that has to count for something.

GOAL 3: Celebrate Karneval in Köln

Outcome: Mission accomplished!

A snowman, Little Red Riding Hood and a Princess!

A snowman, Little Red Riding Hood and a Princess!

Karneval is a huge celebration in parts of Germany (particularly in the west), and Köln is the epicenter of it all. I’m fortunate enough to have a very good friend/effectively my German sister who lives in Köln, and I had the chance to experience an amazing weekend of Karneval celebrations with her. After I skipped out on the chance to celebrate Karneval in Köln during my first trip to Germany in 2011, I told myself I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Making good on that promise was an excellent decision.

GOAL 4: Achieve a German-first mindset

Outcome: Excellent progress made…which is both gut and schlecht

After spending so much time in Germany and speaking German on a regular basis, there has definitely been a change in my thought process. When I talk English I frequently find myself reaching for a German word before an English one or starting to pick up German sentence constructions that just sound awkward in English. This is great for my German fluency, but bad news for my English speaking as I often find myself fumbling around to find the right words in the right language. It may be that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction! 

GOAL 5: Speak without thinking

Outcome: Fluency has improved a lot. Pronunciation however…

The idea with this goal is that I want to be able to react spontaneously in German. I want my neighbor on the train to be able to make random small talk with me about anything that crosses his mind without me feel a bubble of panic in my chest. I want to do away with blank stares at cashiers as they ask a random question I was only halfway listening to. In this area, I think I have made a ton of progress in my German, and (not to toot my own horn), if I’m ever complimented on my German it’s usually for my fluency (in terms of speaking at a normal, conversational pace). I’ve had so many random conversations with people at train stations or when I walk around taking pictures (because apparently if you walk around a town of 60,000 or less with a DSLR, everyone thinks you work for the newspaper), and more and more I find myself being able to keep pace with these strangers and respond fluently to their comments.

Unforunately, I don’t think my pronunciation has improved much, and now that’s a new area of focus. People don’t necessarily know I’m American when I talk, but they definitely notice my accent pretty quickly. That’s not a bad thing, I suppose, and I’d rather be able to speak and understand German fluently with a poor accent rather than speak it haltingly with a perfect accent, but I’m certain this is an area I can improve in if I give it some more time and attention. 

GOAL 6: Attend as many concerts as possible

Outcome: Started strong but faltered quickly

I love listening to both German and English-language music, and I love going to concerts. I thought with Frankfurt relatively close that I’d be likely to see at least a few concerts, but unfortunately this didn’t pan out quite like I hoped. I did get to see one my absolute favorite German artists, Thees Uhlmann, in the fall, but missed out on a chance to see another favorite, Bosse, when tickets sold out faster than I expected. Other concerts just always seemed to clash with my schedule, either being during a weeknight when couldn’t be out late or during a school break when I was traveling. And although more than a few of my favorite English-speaking artsits came through Germany, they often tended to skip Frankfurt in favor of hipper cities like Köln, Hamburg and Berlin. Still, I hope I can make music more of a focus this next year, and I likely will have the chance to do so thanks a move I’m making – more on that in a bit.